Would-be ANC secretary general Senzo Mchunu’s face was a stony mask when he marched off the podium at the governing party’s elective conference on Sunday night.

Having received the most branch nominations for the position,Mchunu had been carried to the stage on the shoulders of his supporters, who were convinced that they had won the day against ANC Free State chairperson Ace Magashule.

Two counts of the 4 708 votes cast for secretary general had returned Mchunu, 59, the former KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson, to the post.

A third count, which caused an hour-long delay as the steering committee responsible for running the conference slugged it out over whether to allow 68 votes by delegates who did not appear on the voters roll, was a mere formality.

But as they reached the podium, they found Magashule had won, beating Mchunu by 24 votes, taking 2 336.

A visibly embarrassed Mchunu left the stage. His aspirations to the secretary general’s office, payback for his role in derailing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s bid for the presidency by splitting the 480 KwaZulu-Natal ANC branches, appeared to be over.

It was a cruel outcome for Mchunu, who, along with the branches backing him, managed to unseat the KwaZulu-Natal ANC provincial executive committee (PEC).